More snow in Texas

Well, Houston did get a blanket of snow.  Only the fourth time ever, and they set a record for it being the earliest day of the year of a snowfall for them.  The weather swept south of Dallas but covered everything south and then moved east out of Texas to Louisiana and Mississippi.

We had biting cold but the sun was out and not too much wind so it was bearable if you had to be out.  Tonight as I was closing up the chickens and filling up the hay tubs for the alpacas I was glad there was not a breath of wind.  My face was plenty cold as it was and my gloved fingertips were almost numb when I got back inside the house.  We are supposed to get down into the 20’s tonight and only in the low 50’s during the next few days before our next round of cold and rain comes through. 

The alpacas and chickens are not fazed.  I drove up the drive to see all the chickens roaming the pastures for anything left alive they could make a meal of.  The alpacas, even the newest six-month-old, are warm enough.  Not enough pasture grass to suit them, but plenty of good hay  our neighbor provided.  I have not heard any coyotes at night;  they must be staying in and keeping warm.

Six books you will want for reference

I am a dedicated “researcher”.  Before we make any decisions or buy anything that is a  big ticket item, I research until I am comfortable making a decision and spending our hard-earned money.  You name it and I have researched it.  Likewise, before I invest in a reference book for the bookshelf , I want to make sure I get exactly what I need.  I read reviews and comments first.  I may check it out at the library first, or borrow it from an acquaintance. 

And so, in our pursuit of country living, alpaca/livestock husbandry, and poultry raising, I found these books so far that have helped answer lots of questions.  I shop at a nearby Half-Price Books or Hastings for good values; otherwise, I get great deals on Amazon.  You can set yourself up with a “wish list” and check it often to find any of your wish-list books that might be on sale at that time. Take a look  and search by topic, or author,  for an easier search.

Here are my 6 “go-to” books right now, in order by topic.  Some of the “country” will also have sections on poultry.

Country living:

1.  Storey,John and Martha Storey. 1999.  STOREY’S BASIC COUNTRY SKILLS.  Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, 564 p. 

2. Emery, Carla.  2008.  THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COUNTRY LIVING, the original manual for living off the land & doing it yourself.  Seattle: Sasquatch Publishing, 922 p.

3.  Ekarius, Carol. 1999.  SMALL-SCALE LIVESTOCK FARMING, a grass-based approach for health, sustainability, and profit.  Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, 217 p.


4.  Damerow, Gail. 1995.  STOREY’S GUIDE TO RAISING CHICKENS, care, feeding, facilities.  Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, 341 p.


5.  Hoffman, Clare and Asmus, Ingrid.  2nd ed. 2005.  CARING FOR LLAMAS AND ALPACAS, a health and management guide.   Wyoming: Pioneer Printing, 176 p.

6.  Bennett, Marty McGee, THE CAMELID COMPANION, handling and training your alpacas & llamas.  New York: Raccoon Press, 386 p.

Add some chickens for fun

I always wanted to live on a farm; my dream was idyllic and not really practical or realistic.  They are a lot of work.  But if you read, read, read and prepare yourself for that opportunity, then it should not be a real big adjustment to own and live on a farm.  I remember our Realtor when she showed us the property said, “won’t you be scared to live out here?”  Of course we knew we wouldn’t, although the first time we heard the coyotes yipping and calling I wasn’t really  sure how I felt about it.  But now, they are wonderful to listen to and sometimes observe when they are close enough.

I also always wanted chickens. I read and studied and also had to be familiar with the different breeds to choose something I would enjoy but I also wanted something that was different.  I did not plan to be butchering birds; they would only be for egg production.    I also wanted them to spread out across our 3 pastures and eat the bugs and help keep the pastures clean.  Then I could not narrow down my choices to just one.  I ended up getting a rare breed pullet assortment package , a bantam Silkie package and a guinea fowl package, 10 each group for a total of 30, 10 per coop.  img_0005

I had to make sure the coops, one in each pasture would be large enough to house the birds without them fighting for space.  They have adapted very well, enjoy the coops and enjoy the pastures and the barn.  I will find an occasional errant egg laid in the alpacas hay trough, or next to a coop.  But we designed the coops for good ventilation and they made it through the winter fine.  I acquired them as chicks from IDEAL POULTRY last June so we have made it almost a year.  There have not been any losses to hawks (fingers crossed) and we have  our “regulars” that fly all over the pastures out here.  Red tailed hawks and Mississippi Kites are frequent.  There is a smaller hawk variety I haven’t been able to identify but reminds me of a peregrine. 

I noted in a previous article how to go about finding your property.  The main thing is, make your list of priorities.  If you don’t know what your priorities are for a piece of property, do some shopping and you might be able to refine a list (a few of our priorities were: close access to a highway to get my husband to work in  downtown Dallas, not too far from medical and grocery shopping, good access to our place from major highways for alpaca customers, views are pastoral,  neighbors with clean and maintained properties, etc.).  We found our place after looking a year, and I mean out every weekend.  I did the research online and gathered up a list of addresses and we drove.  We learned a lot that way and further refined our list as to “where” we wanted to live.  Instead of south of Dallas we chose north and east of Dallas.  Access to, and “pretty”  surrounding properties, were exactly what we were looking for.  Review the county’s property tax base so you’re not surprised at your annual taxes.  We did not hire a realtor to show us properties; we were most interested in scouting out where they were, look around at the “neighborhood”, scout out the nearby small towns, and just observe whether the property might be one to investigate further.  That way we could look at our own pace.  We could then call the listing realtor if we wanted to look at the property.

Have patience, and the same for shopping for chickens.  Get a breed or two that has characteristics you want and  you will enjoy taking care of.  Then just get some.  You will not regret it.

Alpacas and hay



Flash, our pretty rose grey female

Flash, our pretty rose grey female

We just got our alpacas on-site a year ago in November.  I thought it would never happen. We find our place, move , get barn and pasture set up and then get the alpacas moved down from Ohio and Nebraska. I am a little out of order on this, because we actually had an opportunity to get them all moved down at once and then boarded nearby until we were ready for them.  And after moving here and before getting the animals, we had our daughter graduate from college, our daughter get married, and our son get married (already graduated from college), all in less than a year.  Whewwww; I am glad we are past all that stress. Now moving on to a different kind of stress.

My husband and I have not lived on a farm/ranch.  We had relatives who did, and I delighted in visiting my paternal grandparents in Stafford, Oklahoma at their farm.  As a child I was not aware that an outhouse and a pitcher pump at the kitchen sink were in any way a hardship.  The old handcrank phone on the wall still meant  relying on how many rings  to know if the call was yours or someone else’s on the partyline. No airconditioning, and the only heat from a gas stove in the living room. Sleeping on the small screened in porch in summer was delightful but scary as the coyotes howled. I loved hearing and seeing the train whistle down the track nearby and jackrabbits run and jump out of the way. Feeding the minnows in the cows stock tank dry  oatmeal so they would come up to the surface scrambling for a morsel. Helping feed chickens, holding new chicks, gather eggs,  or gather sweet corn. To a kid from the city it is heaven.  I loved the outdoors and dirt and bugs didn’t bother me a bit.   So, we bought our own bit of heaven on 104 acres in northeast Texas.

So now we have our barns and pastures, and our animals living here for just over a year.  Learning to care for the animals is a learning curve; you never really stop learning.  We were lucky that the previous owners had all  pastures in grass for their bison.  The 3 acres we fenced in with alpaca friendly fencing (the other acres are cross fenced  in barbed wire), I was not sure what was planted there.  I took a handful of grass in to the USDA office and she identified it as brome, which is just fine for alpaca grazing.  During the winter we buy small hay bales for them to eat. Usually a flake a day per animal works out about right.   As the grasses come in I cut back on how much hay is put out.  Luckily, our neighbor across the road is a full time hay grower and has really nice coastal Bermuda, which is a preferred hay for alpacas in this area.  He owns and rents several large areas of land  and has multiple locations for his hay storage.  We just have to drive across the road to get ours.  How lucky for us. The alpacas love it and the chickens like to scrounge around in it for hiding crickets and bugs and grass seed heads.img_0013

The local co-op manager (another neighbor) had a new product in his store called Chaffhaye.  It is used in place of hay.  He gave me a sample package. the alpacas were not too fond of it; I mixed it in with their evening feed.  They kept rotating among feed dishes trying to find one without any in it. I have added a little bit every so often in their evening feed and they have become familiar with the taste.  I will maybe keep some on hand to mix in regularly.  It is supposed to be better for the animal as it is alfalfa hay mixed with molasses to encourage better digestion and is compressed and bagged so it is easy to transport and no mess.  Alfalfa can create various issues for alpacas so I will not feed it full strength at this point.  But it is a handy source to have as a backup and extra treat for them.

The coyotes of winter

When we first moved out to this acreage of 104 acres, the largest acreage we had been on was 3 acres for 10 years. It was in a nice area of similar sized lots and very secluded.  However, we were not  blessed with the variety of  wild visitors we have had out in our new location. 

New Year’s Day we saw two coyotes just across the road from our house, chasing some prey.  Maybe rabbits or even the field mice; they are plentiful.  They actually spent quite a lot of time out in the open and it was just before noon.  They were in no hurry to leave and I guess while the hunting was good they were going to hang around. 

I must admit that the first time we heard the coyotes out here it was a bit unnerving.  It has been fun to track the areas their calls come from and we can tell what area they are howling from.  It has been interesting to see one or two occasionally out during the day.  It is not too often, and it seems usually it is a young one.  One day a young one had gotten separated from his gang, and was out howling to get them to come for him as he wandered around the pastures.  I got binoculars to track him, and finally one came to him from the trees along our dry creek bed at the back of our property, happily united, and off they went.

Luckily, the coyotes have not had any interest in our alpacas or our chickens (yet).  They are all contained in no climb fencing and hot wires at top and along the bottom.  I regularly check the fence to make sure nothing is trying to dig under or wriggle through.  The chickens are closed up nightly in their coops, except for the guineas that just won’t go in, I call “the three stooges”.

I love to watch the hawks circling and this fall for the very first time we saw scores of hawks circling and moving south, apparently in migration mode.  There is a smaller falcon sized hawk I am trying to identify; I am seeing this one this year for the first time.

We are careful not to keep food type trash or any animal feed out for any animal to get to.  Our neighbor unfortunately would feed his dogs and cats outside and created a free feast for the area skunks.  Since they moved I have not seen skunks around. 

The snakes we have seen are harmless rat snakes and are harmless but keep the mice population down.  We try not to harm them and they will move off if there is too much people activity.

The owls are fun to listen to.  We had one that nested in our tree at our other house. It was nice to know there are plenty living in our windbreaks.  One night there were 3 calling and they sounded like they all were just outside of the window; I am guessing they were on the high point of our steeply pitched roof. 

The summer hummingbirds and butterflies are great fun.  I spy the occasional gecko and we have seen a roadrunner out on our country road.

Being in the country makes you open your eyes and observe nature more closely.